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From unlimited leave to four-day weeks, some firms are embracing more flexible time-off policies

From unlimited leave to four-day weeks, here are how some firms in Singapore are embracing more flexible time-off policies for their employees.

From unlimited leave to four-day weeks, some firms are embracing more flexible time-off policies

File photos of a woman relaxing on a beach. (Photo: Unsplash)

SINGAPORE: From June to August, senior application consultant Heemank Verma enjoys a long weekend every week.

Mr Verma, who works in fintech firm Mambu’s Singapore office, uses his Fridays off to hike one of Singapore’s nature trails and to practice a new language - Mandarin.

Mambu, a Berlin-based startup, has a summer four-day work week policy for its offices across the globe. From June to August - the European summer months - the roughly 40 employees employed in Singapore also get an additional day off a week. On top of that, Mr Verma gets 25 days of annual leave.

It’s a big difference from a more conventional multinational firm where he worked before, which was also in Singapore, he said.

Companies in Singapore typically offer 14 to 21 days of annual leave along with a mix of other leave types such as compassionate leave, childcare leave and marriage leave.

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“To be honest, we are always looking forward to the three months. Even when we are working in January or February, we are excited,” said Mr Verma.

“Our company does not (condone) micromanagement, people take ownership of their work. I feel like that is a fundamental basis of the four-day work week.”

Mambu said that their assumption was that people will be motivated to “work smarter, and be more productive and effective” during the days they are at work.

“At Mambu we prefer to focus on productivity, output and results rather than just the amount of time spent working,” said its APAC managing director Myles Bertrand.

It’s among a number of firms in Singapore that have adopted more flexible leave and time-off policies in recent years, a trend that started in Silicon Valley.

UNLIMITED VACATION POLICY

Netflix famously started a “No Vacation Policy” way back in 2003 and other tech companies have followed suit. Rather than count the number of leave days workers are entitled to, the companies leave it up to them to decide.

In Singapore, Deloitte is one company that has taken this up. Instead of different leave types, the professional services firm subsumes family leave, compassionate leave, marriage leave, volunteer leave and public holidays in-lieu into a “flexi-leave” policy.

In effect, employees decide how much leave they take each year under the policy launched in July 2019. 

Mr Melvin Wong, senior account manager at Deloitte Singapore, said that he took 18 days of leave in the last financial year, slightly less than the 20 days he normally plans for.

“Pre-pandemic, I would plan for an annual family holiday trip that would take up about 10 to 12 days while the remaining eight to 10 days are scattered through the year for birthdays, local staycations and running races,” he said.

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He said that he works with his supervisors to determine the calendar of events at the start of each financial year, which allows him to plan his leave while ensuring that the days off do not clash with any major client activity. 

During the COVID-19 pandemic, he adjusted his working hours so that he could help his family through the spurts of home-base learning and to mentally and physically recharge, he said.

Deloitte’s flexi-leave policy is part of a broader work-life integration programme which also includes flexi-work - where workers have the flexibility to customise their work arrangements.

They can choose to work from home when circumstances allow, and to adjust their work start and end times in accordance to their family or personal needs, said Ms Ong Siok Peng, Deloitte Singapore talent leader.

“HUGE MINDSET CHANGE”

“It took a little while for our people to get used to this change ... It also requires a huge mindset change for the team leaders – we educated them on the details of the new policy and have continuously communicated that the focus should be on whether KPIs (key performance indicators) are met and on the quality and  timeliness of work, and not the where and the how,” said Ms Ong. 
 
She said that under the new policy, they have found that Deloitte employees typically take an average of 20 days of leave per person.
 
“Interestingly, this figure is just about the same leave entitlement figure we had in the past. Obviously, some employees took more leave, while some took less,” she said.

“We find that our people have been responsible with this flexibility, and have not encountered any issues of misuse.”

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During the COVID-19 pandemic, an added advantage was that no administrative work was needed to remind employees to clear leave, carry forward leave and extend leave. 

“Even though all of us cannot travel at the moment, employees are still encouraged to take leave to avoid burn-outs,” she added.

Ms Deanna Lim, consultant for HR & business support at recruitment agency Robert Walters Singapore, said that she has seen some unusual leave policies in job postings in recent years. Some have offered unlimited annual leave, particularly in the financial services and ecommerce sectors.

“Others are showing more support to their employees by providing extended maternity and adoption leave – beyond the 16 weeks of maternity leave mandated by the Government,” she said.

“Other recent trends that we’ve observed include birthday leave, flexible time-off working arrangements, and study or examination leave which are offered to student employees.”

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At Facebook Singapore, for instance, employees get two Choice Days on top of 20 days of annual leave.

They can take the time off to volunteer, celebrate a faith-based, community or cultural event, on their birthday or just use it as a free day to do something they enjoy.

The company had special leave days in 2020 to support people during the COVID-19 pandemic, and this year, the Singapore office is giving workers three additional company-wide days off on to give people time to rest and recharge.

“PROGRESSIVE MOVE” AWAY FROM DOCUMENTED LEAVE

Ms Lim said that moving forward, more firms are expected to adopt more flexible leave policies.

“This allows them to stay competitive within their industry. Increasingly, we also see more firms adopting different initiatives and revising their existing employee benefits so they can support the formation of family units,” she said.

Dr Rashimah Rajah, a lecturer in the Department of Management & Organisation at the National University of Singapore (NUS) Business School, called this a “progressive move” away from documented leave.

For example, more firms now don't require employees to produce medical certificates if the sick leave is just for one or two days, she said.

“From a management and organisational perspective, what such policies bring is a heightened amount of trust,” said Dr Rashimah. 

“Cultivating a culture of trust and also respecting others' personal space when they are on leave leads to better collaboration and engagement among employees.”

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She noted that the prevailing culture of the organisation is an important factor in determining the success of such policies. 

“If the culture of trust and respect has been there for some time, having these policies can improve productivity. 

"However, if the culture was one that included things like micromanagement, giving employees ‘sudden freedom’ might lead to potential abuse of the system because employees might use this as a way to release frustrations with the organisation,” she said. 

“What is important is aligning expectations through communication, set common goals and objectives, and understanding that there might be one non-negotiable objective, but the way to get to the objective can be flexible.”

Source: CNA/hm

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